By Arunabh Satpathy
Greg Ness introduced the panel consisting of Bob Flores, Philip Lohaus and Dmytro Shymkiv in an afternoon session at the Future in Review conference titled “Ukraine: On the Front Lines of Russia’s Infowar Machine.” Ness summarized the aims of the session as answering three vital questions: Why us Ukraine strategically vital? What is happening at Ukraine today? Where do we go from here?
As for the first question, Shymkiv started of by mentioning a previous panel on China’s infowar strategy. He stated that Russia’s infowar machine wants to disrupt and destroy western presence in Ukraine and also experiment with the kinds of tools can be used to influence behaviors and decision making in the West.
Charles Cleveland(?) mentioned that traditional areas of strength possessed by the United States, including sea, land, air, and space. However, he also mentioned two new fronts where the US is losing: cyberspace and humans who are “easily influenced.”
On the second question, Shymkiv spoke about the systematic dismantling of critical infrastructure in the Ukraine, giving special mention to the whole Ministry of Finance being wiped out and energy grid being disrupted.
“The Russians used tax report software for 400,000 computers extracting financial information and digital signatures,” he said.
He further said that the Russians followed a pattern previously used by the Soviets of “burning” the machines. He said that within the first few hours of the virus, the companies they hacked lost 90 percent of their infrastructure.
Further clarifying Russia’s use fake news, Shymkiv said that when Crimea was annexed, Russia used social media to influence people. Military recruitment was also done by social media. He also said that typically, fake news stories have 40 percent truth, so they look true while being true.
As for the spread of these tactics beyond Ukraine, the panel said that these tactics have also been used in Georgia, Estonia and other places. They drew comparisons with China, in that Russia has developed a military doctrine based on the US’ doctrine’s weaknesses, to which the US has not yet adapted.
Faced with a bleak situation, the panel wasn’t optimistic about things becoming better. Shymkiv mentioned a Russian experiment in the black sea to control GPS. When mentioning quantum computing, the panel agreed that while it would provide an advantage for a short time, it the advantage would eventually be closed by others.
There was a call for the education system to teach kids to understand cyber better. Critical thinking was also highlighted as important, with Finland’s system being hailed for teaching it.
Ness’ question about the efficacy of the current security stack was also met with pessimism. Shymkiv said it was inadequate and said that pattern recognition could have been the only way forward.